Turkey, Islamic State and USA

Turkey, Islamic State and USA

The Turkey’s contemporary Middle East policy is inconsistent. On September 11 in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) the foreign chiefs of the United States of America, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf monarchies declared their intention to “eradicate” the Islamic State. It’s worth to note that Iran and Syria were not among the participants.

Just before the event Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Dovutoglu had held a meeting of the cabinet to announce that Turkey would not take part in ground operations and other actions on the Iraqi soil limiting its role to intelligence gathering and logistics.US State Secretary John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have recently visited Turkey. Each time the President Erdogan’s press-service did not elaborate saying only that the fight against terrorists in the Middle East continues.

Intelligence collection is not a big thing. Turkey will refuse to allow a US-led coalition to attack jihadists in neighbouring Iraq and Syria from its air bases, nor will it take part in combat operations against militants. It will not be involved in any armed operation but will entirely concentrate on humanitarian operations. The decision echoes the country's refusal to allow the United States to station 60,000 troops in Turkey in 2003 to invade Iraq from the north, which triggered a crisis between the two allies.Turkey then also refused America permission to use its air bases to attack the regime of Saddam Hussein. The decision of Turkey’s government greatly complicates the US mission. This policy has its reasons and justifications. Turkish consulate in Mosul workers are kept hostages by Islamic State militants. The involvement in joint operations with the US intent of moving the combat area to Syrian soil may put Turkey on the brink of open conflict with Iran. Middle East experts know for sure that President Obama is on shaky ground. His intent to bomb the Islamic State in Syria may lead to implications hard to predict at present. Some time ago the US President excluded boots on the ground in Iraq. Now he means it. In near future the United States may increase special operations forces presence in the northern part of Iraq under the pretext of providing training for Iraqi regular forces and Kurdish peshmerga formations. At the same time the Iraqi army will move to the forward edge of combat area. The composition of the would-be coalition is still to be defined.

Turkeyhas not refused the idea of establishing a buffer zone on the ground and no-fly zone near the Syrian border. Ankara came out with an idea of moving its troops to Syria but it was not supported by the Unites States. Turkey believes that establishing a buffer zone at the border will separate Syrian “moderate” opposition forces supported by Ankara and the Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State radicals. Turkey wants Iran to an agreement that would envision Turkish control over the buffer zone in exchange for Iranian control over Iraq’s eastern provinces.

These plans have been rejected by the United States and Iran making Turkey isolate itself from taking active part in the coalition. Washington has no leverage over Turkey. The US hopes to make things precise after the United Nations Security Council says “Yes” to the operation in Iraq.

Turkey’s parliament approved two months ago the decision permitting the armed forces to conduct operations in Syria. It will have to prolong the permission next month. The US does not let Turkey act as it wants to. At the election time Erdogan considered different scenarios. A commandos operation in Mosul to free hostages was on the table. The military came to conclusion the operation was impossible without American support.


Two years ago the Turkish Justice and Development Party held the fourth convention on September 30, 2012. It was a claim to the leadership in the Middle East. Hamas leader Khaled Mashal told Erdogan then that he was not only the leader of Turkey but rather the leader of the whole Islamic world. It’s not the case anymore. According to the Wall Street Journal, Turkey's Middle-East Dream Becomes a Nightmare today. (1)

The United States stands in the way of Turkey’s independent Middle East policy. Any attempt to deviate from toeing the Washington-defined line leads to misunderstanding and factions becoming public domain. Erdogan has said recently he has not talked to President Obama directly for a long time. The confession shows how tense the relations have become.

(1) Soner Cagaptay, Turkey's Middle-East Dream Becomes a Nightmare // The Wall Street Journal, September 3, 2014.

Tags: Turkey